Monday, May 21, 2012

Outside Ideas

This year, once again, it's the inside of our home getting all the attention while rampant neglect reigns outside. It makes me look twice as longingly at other yards where I can both appreciate their beauty and their owner's hard work. Lately I can't stop idea shopping for when we reach the landscape phase of our renovation. Although there won't be anything fancier than a bird bath and a new deck, I can't stop seeing simple and cute garden ideas everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites...

I love these partially buried clay pots full of succulents. My source tells me these are called "chicks and hens."  

I hope no one was looking through those blinds watching me take a picture of this fanciful bicycle planter. I love all the little places on it to slide in some flower pots.

 Who says a bird bath can't also be a stand for pots of pansies?

 It's an's a's an umbrella tree~ whatever it is, I appreciate its dual purpose of looking cute and providing shade.

 Campanulas (also called Bellflowers) are nice easy perennials. So pretty and delicate...would love to get some of these into the flower bed next year. 

Or why not accessorize the grass with a baby? 

Just so there is no confusion...these pics were not taken where we live, but while visiting family. The busy two lane road where we live, populated by farms and fields, is pretty underwhelming as far as gardens are concerned. It makes me appreciate these scenes even more. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mommy Style: A Tongue in Cheek Look at Who We Are

The lady sized me up over her bifocals. She scrutinized my application while phones rang in the background of the busy office.
"So, you are seeking to apply for a specific style of mothering. Is that correct?" she asked.
"That's right. Do you have any available?"
"Well. We need to see what you would best be suited for and then we'll go from there."
"I see."

In my head, the many different kinds of mothers I had observed over the years surrounded me. Where did I fit in?

"Now, I see you are applying to be a Loving, Patient, and Thoughtful mother. Just how did you hear about that position?"
"From Hallmark, the card company. It's their biggest selling card, and I think it fits my skill set."

But that was wishful thinking, and only half the story. Just that morning I had screamed in frustration when the world's fussiest baby quacked for hours for no reason I could discern, and wouldn't even take a nap. Fully convinced I would never be able to get out of my bath robe again, I handled it with as much grace as I could, which turned out to be an amount so small you would need a NASA microscope to see it.

"That's a very competitive style. Many apply, and many don't make it. Do you have any secondary choices?" She refocused her attention on my application.
"Um, yes. Fun mom, or Organized mom."
"Fun mom, you say? What appeals to you about that?"

I thought it would be neat to be the kind of mom who always has fun outings and learning opportunities planned, a constant playmate to my curious little guy. The kind of mom I see sitting on a blanket at the park with her toddler having a blast on a clear sunny day. That looked appealing. That could be me.

"Remember all that energy you had when you were twenty years old? Do you still have any of it?"
"No," I confessed sadly. "I used it all up digging potatoes and writing academic papers."
"Let's think about Organized mom."

Someone told me they heard about it at a place called The Container Store. I'm not only natural a stickler for organization, but I find joy in it. Since becoming a mother, there have been no late night runs to the store because we ran out of something, never a time when I absolutely needed to do the laundry for fear of nothing to wear, never a time when I didn't know where every little errant baby sock in the house was located. Things did slip by the wayside, but never for very long. This could go places.

"Have you ever left the house and forgot to put diapers in your bag?"
"Just once," I admitted, "but I thought some were in there. That never happens now. Never. I spend all morning making sure the diaper bag is well stocked."
"Oh? What happens when you have to be someplace in the morning? Do you do it the night before?"
"No, that would never happen because it's impossible for me to ever leave the house before noon. Physically impossible. Also, I never forget anything except for when I do, which is all the time since I became a mom."
This was going nowhere. "Look, what kind of mom style openings are left?"

The interviewer spun around and tapped the computer keyboard.
"We always have openings for Helicopter mom..."
"I don't know what that is."
"It's where you hover over your child, managing every detail of their life closely and lose yourself in the minutiae of your child's existence. The assignment starts when they become school aged."
Ugh. No way. It sounded noisy and unbalanced.

I thought about the times I try really, really hard with Duckling, doing my best and how sometimes I fall wildly short, and other times exceed beyond my expectations.

Hey, wait a minute.

"Do you have something like a "Doing My Best mom"? Oh sure, it turned out that not only were there many loyal members in the Doing My Best corps, but that many of the best moms were operating in some subdivision of that company. Even better, this Division is always hiring as there is an endless need for this mom-type.

"Congratulations. This position and title are retroactive. Oh, and Happy Mother's Day"

Friday, May 11, 2012

I Did It: I Busted My Fabric Stash

This post is basically meant as inspiration for someone who wants to get their fabric scraps busted and organized. It was a long term project that I worked at little by little, mainly anywhere from 15 minutes a day to a couple hours a week. The motivation was to get a grip on my over flowing fabric bin, and to take an inventory of what fabric I already own. A review of your fabric inventory never hurts, and I was surprised at what I forgot I had!  My goal and ultimate motivation was to find fabric that could be rediscovered and prepped for future sewing projects. If you love to be organized, like I do, then I encourage you to take some of these ideas and take control of your fabric remnants.

Here are the steps:

  1. Empty out your fabric drawer, box, cabinet, whatever. Decide what is really worth keeping. This is actually the easiest part. 
  • Keep It: Premium fabric bought for specific projects that you just haven't gotten around to making yet, fabric that you just love no matter how much is left, expensive fabric, fabric of significant yardage, any scraps of decent width or length. This amount will vary depending on the type of sewing you do and your craft needs. I chose to keep fabric if it was large enough to make a pillow case, since that is a common need in our home. I may have kept some fabric that was less than that amount if it was solid colored and could be used as backing for other projects.
  • Toss It: Really old fabric that has faded or degraded, small scraps of material leftover from craft projects that you are just tired of seeing and won't find joy in creating anything new out of, any scraps leftover from something that you made only to discover the material didn't hold up or has faded terribly. I would also add to this list, any significant yardages of material (including bolts) that are taking up space and that you realistically cannot commit to making use of in the near future. In my stash, I found some large yardages of dress fabric that are identical to dresses I already own; Since it was over more than a yard of fabric, I chose to donate it to the Christian Aid Ministries sewing program.
2. What you should have left, after turning some things into rags and throwing out tiny scraps that are too mangled or in poor condition, is a mini-mountain of oddly shaped scraps in varying sizes and lengths. If it is anything like mine was, then they are also horribly wrinkled. This pile will be a walk down memory lane of everything you have made over the years. You'll get to fall in love with some of your favorite florals and stripes all over again, while having some "What was I thinking?" moments about others.  

An ugly plastic grocery bag full of scrap material.
Now you are ready to bust.

Decide on a reasonable strategy for your mini-mountain. Do you have some projects that you make repeatedly as gifts? Do you know of a million things to do with squares or triangles? Have you always wanted to make a yo-yo quilt? The time is now. I've heard of some people who cute their scraps into 8-inch squares for simple block quilts that they tie together with embroidery floss. Maybe some of your material will end up as drawer liners. That's okay, just start thinking about how you want to break down your pile.

Since I'm a quilter, I opted to invest in a tool called a stash buster, which is a clear plastic quilting ruler, marked so you can easily measure and rotary cut 5" charm squares, 2 1/2" strips, and an assortment of usable shapes and dimensions. The reason I chose this method was because of the many charm pack-friendly quilting projects I would like to try (and already own patterns for) and breaking down my stash should leave me with a nice rainbow assortment of charm squares. Also, if there wasn't enough fabric to get a charm square out of it, I could easily cut jelly roll strips. Either way, I was getting good, usable material  in convenient sizes for future projects without spending a dime.

Besides the stash busting ruler, I also pulled out a few of my most frequently used craft patterns and made some key pieces in various fabrics. There is a table runner I love to make, so I got out the pattern for that and cut out a couple dozen shapes so I'll have a stock pile the next time I want to make that project. 

Tip: Remember to stack and whack. Whenever possible, double up the fabric before cutting save time.

If you have some larger pieces of fabric and are a quilter, I'd encourage you to cut 10" squares (layer cakes) as there are plenty of great projects out there for that size, and the larger you cut your blocks, the less time you will spend cutting and the faster you will bust your stash. (Tip: Always cut the biggest usable pieces you can, since you can always trim it down later, if needed.)

Once I figured out my busting strategy, it was important to make the commitment to grab a handful of fabric every few days, press it, and cut it down. I also made a commitment not to start any new sewing projects until this project was complete. I didn't want to get sidetracked and get stuck abandoning my bag of unsightly scraps. Was it worth it? I think so. A charm pack has around 42 squares and costs about $10, and while I haven't counted the results of all my cutting square by square, it's safe to say the savings will be significant. I now have a ton of usable pre-cut fabric in material that I liked enough to buy in the first place, and neatly cut fabric takes up so much less space than crumpled scraps. 

A 6-inch high stack of squares.

Final Step: Organize by color. This is just a good obvious way to organize your new sew-ready fabric supply so you can get some project ideas together. It's completely optional, of course.

Linked to Homemaker's Challenge as part of their Challenge Accomplished link up.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Menno-meals and Eggplant Recipe

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Peggy and my friend/frequent commenter BATMom at a Dutch market in PA for a little lunch and shopping. Peggy and her husband were traveling through, and it was such a pleasure to meet them both. I purchased some eggplant which I made into an easy and delicious meal, which I'll share with you.

Then I stumbled across this column by Melodie Davis which is about her mother's Mennonite cooking in rural Indiana, and how dinners were really just so-so but the desserts were really something special. It's a critique I've heard about Mennonite, and even Amish cooking for years, that the meals are your basic church potluck dishes but, oh, the baking! I think there is a grain of truth about it, but that things are getting better. Like the writer, I grew up on meals of meat, potatoes, and usually a frozen vegetable unless something was in season. We ate seasonally, but not really. Through the wonders of food preservation, we often ate whatever my mom canned a lot of, and sometimes that meant summer fruit year round. We often did u-picks at local farms and put away such a massive amount of one specific food, that I feel as if I have eaten my lifetime quota of certain things already, and won't eat them anymore. By the time I was 18, I had grown so weary of pork and potato meals that I practically became vegetarian, worn out from the repetition of our predictable suppers. But I don't think we ate much differently than many people in the 1970's/80's did, and unlike Ms. Davis, I did eat broccoli and cauliflower. Things were evolving and our taste and access to food as a nation has continued to broaden. A greater selection of high quality food is available now, and ethnic influences are more prominent in our recipes. Even for people who change slowly, things are slowly changing.

There's plenty of good old fashioned Mennonite home cooking that I love, and my dinner table will always have pickles, casseroles, and salads. Maybe there will come a time when dishes other than the pies, sticky buns, layer cakes, and puddings will take home the blue ribbon at the Mennonite Fare. 

Now that I'm a busy mom, I'm just happy for something delicious that takes ten minutes to prepare before going in the oven. I love Eggplant Parm, but don't have time for breading and frying and baking. I was excited to find an adaptation of this recipe in a magazine put out by a local grocery chain, because not only does it skip the breading and frying, but you don't even peel the eggplant. What a time saver.

Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

2 medium eggplant, trimmed  and sliced into 1/2" rounds
1 quart pasta sauce (or 24 oz. jar)
olive oil
1/4 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Lawry's seasoning salt,and black pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  1. Spray bottom and sides of 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray; spread bottom of pan with 1 1/2 cups of sauce. Top with overlapping layer of eggplant slices; drizzle with olive oil. Add even layer of bread crumbs; sprinkle with half the grated cheese. Season to taste with seasoned salt and cracked black pepper. Top with remaining sauce and remaining grated cheese.
  2. Bake, covered, 40 min or until eggplant is tender. Remove from oven; top with mozzarella cheese. Return to oven, uncovered, 2-3 min, until cheese melts. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.


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